Sunday, May 14, 2017

What The Democrats Need Now

I've been dreaming lately of what it would be like to be president of the United States.

I'd run as the politically incorrect liberal — the rational middle ground between the Right wing bigots and lunatics, and the bleeding heart ultra PC liberals, as that's how I see myself. I'd implement tax reform that shifts the burden onto the rich and back onto the corporations, which is what we need. I'd take no money from lobbyists or special interests or super PACs. I'd be a president that actually works for the people. There's an idea! I'd fill my cabinet with ardent populists. I'd fire anyone in any agency that wasn't down with my populist agenda that says we shouldn't have a government that works almost entirely for corporations and special interests. In other words, I'd drain the fucking swamp.

I'd reform our drug policy by immediately removing marijuana from the schedule I classification that it is in now. My attorney general would push for legalization at all costs. I'd do everything in my power for legalizing weed, whether by executive order, or by introducing legislation. I'd also push for the decriminalizing all of drugs. The DEA would be ordered to stand down on most drug enforcement policy that doesn't involve violent offenders. With marijuana legal in all 50 states a whole new economy would arise that would reduce crime from illegal gangs and cartels, and it would generate a huge new source of tax revenue and create jobs. I'm so fucking tired of stupid policies by stupid politicians, who are unfortunately voted into office by stupid uninformed citizens. My platform would be centered on the idea that the US has to be the smart country once again.

I'd put someone really smart in charge of the Department of Energy, someone who's a really thinker and innovator and who wants to move the US towards full renewable energy sources. Someone not beholden or affiliated in any way with the oil and gas companies. I'd put someone who supports the same kind of education reform as I do in charge of the Department of Education. There'd be no religious fundamentalists, or climate change deniers, or Nixonian anti-drug crusaders in my administration at all. We'd get to finally have the smart progressive policies we should have already had.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Tax Plan

As I get more and more into politics and economics I strive to one day be a policy wonk. I've been listening to podcasts like Vox's The Weeds, where they dissect and analyze public policies like the ACA, Trump's AHCA, tax policy, and trade policy, and I've become fascinated by the intricacies of policy.

Now I'm far from a policy wonk myself, and I'm still in the process of learning. What I'd like to do here is spend a few posts exploring policy proposals I've been floating around in my (still learning) head.

There is no doubt that we need tax reform in the US. The tax laws are weighted far too heavy on labor, and in particular middle class labor, who often pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes than do he rich. I've previously floated the idea of a graduated sales tax in lieu of an income tax around, but here I want to propose the tax plan that I'd implement if I was president.

Federal tax rates for individuals:

Income amount Tax rate

0 – 2,500  0.00%

2,500 – 10,000 10.00%

10,000 – 40,000 15.00%

40,000 – 90,000 25.00%

90,000 – 150,000 28.00%

150,000 – 250,000 33.00%

250,000 – 500,000 35.00%

500,000 – 1,000,000 40.00%

1,000,000 – 10,000,000 43.00%

10,000,000 – above 45.00%

For the first $2,500 dollars of earned income there would be no taxes. This is intended to give the poor and middle class some tax relief. This plan raises the highest rates to 45% and generally lowers the rates for those at the bottom of the brackets. The current tax rates top out at 39.6% for income above $418,400. But to me there should be additional tax rates for the super wealthy, as there's a huge difference between a relatively wealthy person making 500k a year, and a super wealthy person making 20 million or more a year. The person making 20 million or more a year shouldn't be paying the same rate top rate as the person barely cracking 500k.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I Don't Live As If Death Is Final

I was recently rereading the preface of the updated edition of Hitch-22, the memoir of the late Christopher Hitchens, whose diagnosis of esophageal cancer just a few months after the book's release would kill him a little over a year later. Having just learned of his diagnosis, and not knowing whether he'd celebrate another birthday, Hitchens is writing— beautifully as always — with the prospect of death staring at him in the face, and one sentence stood out on the original read that I had to read again.

If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or making of it. 

It struck me, given his insight induced by his condition, that although my naturalistic philosophy entails death is final, and that our loved ones never return to us in any way once they're gone, I certainly don't seem to be living as if that's the case. I seem to be living as if I'm going to be reunited with all my loved ones after they die, as if the amount of time I'm going to be able to spend with them is infinite.

I was recently on the phone with my mother and she told me, as many mothers do, that I don't call her enough. And it's true. I barely call my mother. I can go months without a peep. And it's not the case that I hate her; I love my mother and we have a decent relationship, so it's not like I'm trying to avoid her. It's just, you know, when we get older and move away and our parents are not in our lives and they get a little annoying with their neurotic concerns about us, there's the tendency to avoid them.

But we're acutely aware of our own mortality, and that of the others around us. And we know that if we live long enough, we will see our parents die. And then they will be gone forever. And while I know that's true, I don't seem to be living as if that's true. I don't seem all that concerned of the prospects that I will one day lose both my parents and never see them or hear from them ever again.

I've been wondering lately what that's going to be like. I feel like I might be purposely distancing myself from my parents to be less emotionally reliant on them, as an attempt to make their eventual deaths less burdensome. But is that logical? Am I missing out on worthwhile interaction with my family that I will never have when they die? Will I strongly regret this missed interaction with them when they die? I really don't know. But Hitch's advice would prescribe a visitation. And I'm sure his motivation was very real to him when he wrote it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The First Amendment Explained

Source: Flickr

Everybody loves the First Amendment to the US Constitution it seems, regardless of whether you're a conservative or a liberal. But many people have the wrong interpretation of it, including both liberals and conservatives. A growing number of liberals today think free speech is only to cover speech they like, and conservatives for years have thought that the Establishment Clause is to protect Christianity only. They're both wrong.

So here I want to break down the First Amendment line by line to give a short synopsis of what each part really means.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, 

The very first part of the First Amendment is the Establishment Clause and this establishes the United States as a secular country. Meaning, the government, both federal and state, must not recognize any official religion by recognizing a "wall of separation" between church and state. This means no government can use tax dollars to fund or promote religious institutions or services and must remain neutral on matters of religion, and all laws must have a legitimate secular purpose. This means of course that it is unconstitutional to give Christianity a privilege over any other religion, or over no religion, in the government.

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; 

Because the government must stay neutral on religious matters, it cannot prohibit the free exercise of religious practices, otherwise it will have to violate that neutrality. However, where ever secular law and religious tradition conflict, secular law must always win out. So if, for example, a religion condones child marriage and secular law prohibits it, then secular law wins. As long as secular law does not have the primary effect of inhibiting religion this relationship is justified under the First Amendment.

The Lemon v. Kurtzman holding illustrates this relationship beautifully:

"For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and also must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When Not To Be An Atheist

I just found out that a neighbor of mine who I've known for more than 20 years is very ill and in the hospital. She's a 97 year old lady, who originally emigrated here from I think the Czech Republic, or what ever it was 70 years ago. I ran into her son who told me the news. We had a brief conversation about her and what's been going on, and after our conversation ended he turned around and asked me to pray for her.

I didn't expect that to happen.

Given the situation — his mother dying, and the sadness of the atmosphere, I just didn't have the desire to say anything about the inefficacy of prayer. It wasn't the right time. It didn't feel right saying something atheistic at that moment. Knowing this, I turned around and said not very confidently, "I will," and turned away. I could've said "Prayer doesn't work," but that would be insulting. I could've said "I don't pray," but that too would be insulting, given the situation. And so I feigned belief out of politeness like many of us atheists do.

I understand that there are some ardent anti-theists who wear their atheism on their sleeve all the time and wish that not a single spoken instance of faith based thinking ever go without criticism. I get that. But sometimes we should just give it a rest.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Political Compass

It turns out I'm a Jewish socialist.

Let me explain.

I recently took a political compass test and I landed right on Bernie Sanders. I mean literally right on his face. It turns out the Vermont senator and I basically see eye to eye on politics, at least according to the test. I supported him in the primary, and still support him now, but I was really surprised to see that I was right on him on the compass.

According to the test, I'm a "left libertarian," roughly in the center of the libertarian left quadrant of the compass, not far from Noam Chomsky. I didn't think I'd be that libertarian and honestly expected to be a little more to the center on the libertarian-authoritarian scale.

One of the interesting questions is whether or not one can be moral without being religious. That was an easy one.

I think every political candidate should take this test and this should be a part of the public knowledge on them for us to take into consideration in order to vote. And every sitting politician should take it once a year so that we can track long term trends of candidates and their time in office.

Take the test here if you're interested. It's worth knowing where you stand.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quote Of The Day: How Length Contraction Entails Eternalism

Vesselin Petkov is a philosopher of physics who has written relentlessly on the reality of spacetime. He's one of the founders of the Minkowski Institute, an organization dedicated to (among other things) changing "the present situation in fundamental physics and lead[ing] the research on the major open questions," and is the current director. I emailed him a year ago to comment on my logical argument for eternalism and in response he said it "looks correct" and sent me a link to a short PDF that makes some additional arguments for the same conclusion.

The PDF, entitled The Ultimate Judge: Time does not Flow since it is the Fourth Dimension of the Real World, describes how the empirical evidence of time dilation and length contraction necessarily entail eternalism. Unless you want to deny your senses and empirical evidence as if they're an illusion forged on us by some unknown aspect of nature, the conclusion of eternalism necessarily follows. That is the only way to deny it. 

Below is an excerpt from one part of the PDF that makes an argument that the length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed only as a three-dimensional body, and not as a worldtube in 4 dimensional spacetime (which is what it is on eternalism).

It should be stressed that if the worldtube of the meter stick were an abstract geometric construction and what existed were a single three-dimensional meter stick (which constitutes a single class of simultaneous events), both observers would measure the same three-dimensional meter stick of the same length, i.e. the same class of simultaneous events, which means that simultaneity would be absolute and there would be no length contraction. So, if the meter stick were a three-dimensional object, neither relativity of simultaneity nor length contraction would exists, which means that all experiments mentioned above (that repeatedly confirmed these relativistic effects) would be impossible. This conclusion can be easily generalized - as a three-dimensional world is defined as everything that exists simultaneously at the present moment (as a single class of simultaneous events), if reality were a three-dimensional world evolving in time, then at every moment all observers would share this single three-dimensional world (since nothing else exists); therefore they would share the same single class of simultaneous events, which means that relativity of simultaneity would be impossible in contradiction with the experimental evidence.

This thought experiment clearly demonstrates that length contraction of a meter stick would be impossible if the meter stick existed as a three-dimensional body (not as a worldtube). An ordinary three-dimensional meter stick at rest with respect to an observer A is shown in fig. 1. What we see in the figure is what we perceive and take for granted that it is what really exists. According to Minkowski, however, the meter stick exists equally at all moments of its history and what is ultimately real is the worldtube of the meter stick as shown in fig. 2 (only part of the worldtube is displayed in the figure).

Assume that another meter stick at rest in another observer’s (observer B’s) reference frame moves relative to the first one at a distance 1 mm above it. Let us assume that at the event M the middle point of B’s meter stick (the mark “50 cm”) is instantaneously above the middle point of A’s meter stick. Lights are installed at every point inside A’s meter stick, which can change their color simultaneously at every instant in A’s frame. At the event of the meeting M all lights are red in A’s frame. At all previous moments all lights were green. At all moments after the meeting all lights will be blue. When A and B meet at event M this and only this event is present for both of them. At that moment all lights of A’s meter stick will be simultaneously red for A. In other words, at M the present meter stick for A is red (that is, all parts of A’s meter stick, which exist simultaneously for A at M, are red). All moments before M, when all lights of the meter were green, are past for A, whereas all moments when the meter stick will be blue are in A’s future. Imagine that B’s meter stick contains cameras, instead of lights, at every point along its length. At the event of the meeting M all cameras take snapshots of the parts of A’s meter stick which the cameras face. At event M all snapshots are taken simultaneously in B’s reference frame. Even without looking at the pictures taken by the cameras it is clear that not all pictures will show a red part of A’s meter stick, because what is simultaneous for A is not simultaneous for B.
When the picture of A’s meter stick is assembled from the pictures of all cameras it would show two things as shown in fig. 3 - (i) A’s meter stick photographed by B is shorter, and (ii) only the middle part of the picture of A’s meter stick (as measured, i.e., photographed by B) is red; half is green and the other half is blue. So what is past (green), present (red), and future (blue) for A, exists simultaneously as present for B. But this is only possible if the meter stick is the worldtube as shown in fig. 4.


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